Spotlight on autism | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - April 2014

Spotlight on autism

Researchers believe coloured lighting could help children with autismChildren who have an autism spectrum condition (ASC) are thought to see things differently to other children. This can cause them a great deal of stress and make communication and social interaction difficult.

Recognising people’s faces and understanding facial expressions can be hard for children affected by an ASC. They may also be extremely sensitive to things like bright lights and find certain environments and situations very distressing.

But there could be a simple solution to help. Researchers believe that glasses with coloured lenses might allow these children to see and perceive things more clearly, helping them to improve their social skills. A similar approach, using coloured, see-through plastic overlays in books, has already shown to improve reading in around 80 per cent of children with these conditions.

Dr Amanda Ludlow, from the University of Hertfordshire, and a team of specialists have been awarded funding to investigate further. Dr Ludlow says: “We believe that the way these children see the world might be at the root of some of the difficulties they experience with social behaviour and learning. Unfortunately though, there is a lack of understanding of these matters. More research is needed urgently.

“Our research focuses on children’s vision – on how they perceive the things they can see. We are investigating whether coloured lighting benefits children with ASCs. Does it help children to see and perceive things more clearly? Could it stop them from finding certain environments over-stimulating? If so, glasses with coloured lenses might help children to read people’s facial expressions, judge how other people are feeling, and improve their social skills.”

Dr Ludlow also aims to find out more about the type of visual stress that children with these conditions experience and develop a way to diagnose these problems.

“If our study suggests coloured lighting, glasses with coloured lenses and coloured overlays, might help children with ASCs to see, and perceive, things more clearly, treatment could begin immediately. This simple, low-cost treatment could have profound effects on children’s lives,” says Dr Ludlow.

This project has been funded by a generous grant from The Baily Thomas Charitable Fund.

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